A few weeks ago, when the temperatures soared into the ’90′s and everyone’s hair stood in a frizzy halo around her head, our AC conked out. I lay in front of a fan and wept. And as I lay there, hallucinating, I wondered who I had become. We moved into our house a year ago, and I have spent countless hours deciding on curtains and bedding and exactly where each piece of furniture should go. And yet, I used to live joyously in an oversized, rambling, highly combustible Victorian….
When I finished grad. school in Atlanta, I moved back to the Northeast, where three of my college roommates had a room for me in the attic of a bright-purple, somewhat lopsided Victorian outside of Boston.
It was glorious.
Two funky lesbian professors lived on the first floor with their German Shepherd and a bunch of old records.
Our landlord lived on the second floor.
But we held the penthouse suite: the third and fourth floors. When I first saw the apartment, it took my breath away. Hardwood floors, a spiral staircase leading from the kitchen to the upstairs bedrooms (err…attic), huge windows, skylights, a woodstove, and a deck! As someone who had been a student for the last seven years, I was not used to such luxuries. girls lived on the third floor, each with her own bedroom. Two more of us lived in the attic and shared the open expanse. We built a hanging rack of clothes between us to allow for privacy. My bed was under an eave, which was under a skylight, which seemed lovely at the time. Who cared that I had to crawl headfirst into the eaves to get into my bed? I was sleeping under the stars! And who cared that we were single girls sharing a room? We had the wall of clothes if we needed space. Sure, the house was bright purple, which was a little kooky, even for my fresh-out-of-school taste, but it made us stand out. When we told people that we lived in the purple house in Brookline, everybody knew where it was. This was before GPS, so it was important to have a house people could locate without directions. “It’s the bright purple house” worked perfectly for parties. Our deck had begun to slope toward the ground three floors below, but it still seemed secure, so we used to grill out there on summer nights. We simply hid behind the tree branches or went inside if the neighbors caught wind of the smoke. Apparently, they were “nervous” about us having a grill on the broken deck of an old Victorian. Sigh.
In the winter, we lit the woodstove and sat on the many couches that we had inherited and that now circled the room. We drank wine and ate nachos and commended ourselves on our Christmas light decorations that stayed up all year. Sometimes, the fire raged and began to sneak out the sides of the pipe up toward the ceiling. At that point, we made sure to keep a pail of water near the stove. Just in case. We had a pretty big kitchen and were known for our cooking. Our guy friends in town rarely cooked, subsisting on takeout and peanut butter. We prided ourselves on having real meals: spaghetti, angel hair, ziti, even rotini. Once in a while, we made pita pockets with vegetables in them or bagel pizzas.
Every once in a while, a squirrel jumped in through one of the open skylights and found his way into the house. The squirrels weren’t bad unless they felt trapped, in which case they went bananas, scampering through the apartment and over the furniture like they were rabid. And I didn’t like that their main point of entry was over my bed. You might wonder why we didn’t just shut the skylights if squirrels were coming in and bouncing off of my bed. The skylights were the only air opening in the attic. Fourth floor attics get hot in the summer. We had to leave them open in order to breathe. So the squirrels came and went. And I often had to sweep leaves off of my bed in early fall, but I did love those stars.
One drawback of the hardwood floors was that they had never been quite finished. Very splintery. If one were to sit on the floor for some reason, one might get a splinter in one’s ass. But they were gorgeous.
Our landlord, living on the second floor, had just returned from Nepal where she had experienced some sort of epiphany. Each time she scolded us or demanded rent, she bowed and gave us a little “namaste,” which was way before namaste was mainstream. What was she saying? She saw us as members of her commune, rather than renters. She often let herself into our apartment to shower or “check on something.” A number of times, she knocked on our door, wearing only her underwear. Namaste.
Now I live in the suburbs in a home that I love. I can get in my bed from any side; I don’t need to crawl in from the bottom. Our fireplace hasn’t caught fire. I haven’t had a squirrel on my bed. My home is an understated blue, classic: no garish purple. The deck is not going to fall off with me on it. But I’m going to say that that purple house was the best house I ever lived in: ass splinters and all.